Twice as Tasty

Watermelon and Feta Salad

Sweet, juicy watermelon pairs surprisingly well with salty, tangy cheese in a refreshing summer salad

By Julie Laing
Photo by Julie Laing.

With summer’s heat, watermelon’s popularity soars. I enjoy its sweetness with a touch of the savory, whether in a sorbet with lemon juice and fresh mint or in a drinking shrub with white wine vinegar and fresh basil. So when I building a watermelon salad that reaches beyond a mixed fruit combo, I play with savory ingredients and dressing.

The pairing of watermelon and feta might be surprising, yet the sweetness and juiciness of the melon brings out the saltiness and tanginess of the cheese, and vice versa. Just a hint of heat and acidity round out the flavors, with a refreshing boost from the mint. The honey in the dressing helps bring the lime juice and oil together; leaving it out will reduce the sweetness yet thin the dressing, so shake it well and then immediately pour it over the fruit and cheese.

With a block of feta, you can cut cubes that match the melon in size. I choose the best sheep’s milk feta I can find or make my own with cow’s milk and dry-salt it for several days to deepen its flavor. You can use crumbled feta instead, but if the salad sits before serving, it will dissolve more quickly as the melon’s juices soak into the cheese.

The rind makes up about 40 percent of the weight of even the juiciest watermelon, so buy a melon that weighs about 2 pounds for this recipe. Some years, I grow mini watermelons in my garden or greenhouse. These tend to have thinner rinds and more flesh than commercially grown melons.

Instead of tossing the rind, I look at it as a bonus ingredient and developed two pickled watermelon rind recipes for my cookbook, The Complete Guide to Pickling. One uses vinegar and keeps just a bit of the flesh on the melon for color and flavor; the other ferments just the rind for up to 8 days for a crunchy, sour pickle. The rind left from making this salad makes about one quart of either pickle.

Watermelon and Feta Salad

Serves 4

1 pound watermelon flesh, cubed

8-ounce block of feta, cubed

1 serrano pepper, deseeded and minced

1-1/2 tablespoons lime juice

1 teaspoon honey

Sea salt to taste

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped just before serving

In a large serving bowl, combine the watermelon flesh and feta, cut into similar, bite-size cubes. Add the chili and toss gently.

In a small jar or measuring cup, combine the lime juice, honey, salt and cumin. Screw on the jar lid and shake briskly or whisk until the salt dissolves. Add the oil; reseal and shake again or whisk until it forms a smooth emulsion.

Pour half of the dressing over the watermelon mixture. Toss gently, taste and add more dressing as needed. Add the just-chopped mint, toss gently again and serve immediately.

Julie Laing is a Bigfork-based cookbook author and food blogger at TwiceAsTasty.com.